Florida election recount continues amid tensions, litigation

Florida election recount continues amid tensions, litigation
Dem-leaning Palm Beach County says it likely wont make recount deadline in Florida governor, Senate races
The supervisor of elections in Florida's heavily Democratic Palm Beach County said Sunday that she did not believe her department would meet a Thursday deadline to complete recounts in the Sunshine State's historically tight gubernatorial and Senate races, threatening to further confuse an increasingly chaotic and politically fraught process.

The supervisor, Susan Bucher, told reporters that she did not expect to meet the deadline due to aging equipment. Florida Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell told Fox News that under state law, if a county does not submit their results by the deadline, then the results on file at the time take their place. Revell added that Florida's Secretary of State has no authority to grant extensions.

Video: Rick Scott campaign is filing multiple election lawsuits

One Day In, Floridas Senate Recount Gets Messier

"Supervisors of Elections are independent officials and they are responsible for deciding when to upgrade or modernize their equipment," Revell added.

If Rick Scott wanted to make sure every legal ballot is counted, he would not be suing to try and stop voters from having their legal ballot counted as intended, the campaign said in a statement. Hes doing this for the same reason hes been making false and panicked claims about voter fraud ― hes worried that when all the votes are counted hell lose this election. We will not allow him to undermine the democratic process and will use every legal tool available to protect the rights of Florida voters.

The recount in most other major population centers, including Miami-Dade and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in the Tampa Bay area, were taking place without incident on Sunday. Smaller counties are expected to begin their reviews Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.

In a separate suit against Snipes, Scotts campaign asked a judge to block Broward County from counting any of the ballots it didnt include in the unofficial results it submitted to the Florida Department of State by noon Saturday, a deadline set by state law. That request, if granted, could mean some valid ballots would not be counted. Florida accepts vote-by-mail ballots until 7 p.m. on Election Day and the county may not have them all counted by Saturdays deadline.

Bucher spoke hours after the campaign of Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott — which secured an early legal victory against Democratic-leaning Broward County officials over the weekend — went back to court with a fresh salvo of emergency complaints against both Broward and Palm Beach counties. One complaint requests that state sheriff's officers "impound and secure all voting machines, tallying devices and ballots when they are not in use until the conclusion of the recount."

In a televised statement in front of the governors mansion Thursday evening, Scott suggested there was rampant fraud in Broward and Palm Beach counties and asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate. The state law enforcement agency said Friday it wasnt investigating any allegations of fraud, but Scott continued to insist in a television interview on Fox News Sunday that such fraud existed.

In a separate lawsuit, Scott's team is asking a judge to throw out votes tallied by the Broward County Canvassing Board after Saturday's noon deadline, in apparent violation of state law, which requires that "[t]he canvassing board shall submit … unofficial returns to the Department of State for each federal, statewide, state, or multicounty office or ballot measure no later than … noon on the fourth day after any general or other election."

Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Secretary of States Office, told the network that if a county cant meet the deadline then the results on file at that time take their place. The chair of the Palm Beach Republican Party told CNN that would be good news for Republicans because GOP candidates are currently leading.

“The Broward and Palm Beach County Supervisors of Elections has already demonstrated a blatant disregard for Florida’s elections laws, making it more important than ever that we continue to do everything possible to prevent fraud and ensure this recount is operated responsibly," Chris Hartline, a Scott spokesman, said in a statement.

Nelsons campaign also has a lawsuit seeking to force the state to count ballots thrown out because the signature on them didnt match the one on file with the states voter registration.  Federal judges in Georgia and New Hampshire have blocked similar laws in those states this year.

Video: 8 million ballots in Florida are being re-scanned for both governor and Senate races

Lawyer Marc Elias, who is representing the campaign of Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, fired back on Twitter.

There are also recounts underway in statewide contests for governor and state agriculture commissioner. Bucher, the Palm Beach County election official, told CNN it would be impossible for her staff to meet the states deadline for recounting the votes.

Florida candidates for governor, Senate speak out amid statewide recount

"Lets [sic] be clear about what we are witnessing in Florida," Elias wrote. "The sitting Governor is seeking to throw out lawful votes and seize the voting equipment in order to win an election."

The race to count Floridas votes got even messier on Sunday as Gov. Rick Scotts campaign filed a handful of lawsuits seeking to give law enforcement custody of election equipment and prevent certain ballots from being included in official results.

Video: Rick Scott on another vote counting controversy in Florida

Both sides lob insults as recount of 700,000 ballots in Broward begins

"Somebody needs to cut down on the Red Bull," a Scott spokesperson wrote on Twitter, in response to a statement by Florida Democrats Executive Director Juan Penalosa that compared Scott to a Latin American dictator. "We requested that ballots and voting machines be protected when not in use. The only reason not to protect the integrity of the ballots and the voting machines is if you are actively promoting or hoping for fraud."

But Democrats continued to bash the Republican's effort. "If Rick Scott wanted to make sure every legal ballot is counted, he would not be suing to try and stop voters from having their legal ballot counted as intended," Nelson said in a statement. "He's doing this for the same reason he's been making false and panicked claims about voter fraud — he's worried that when all the votes are counted he'll lose this election. We will not allow him to undermine the democratic process and will use every legal tool available to protect the rights of Florida voters."

Unofficial results show that Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis led Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points in the election for governor. In the Senate race, Scott's lead over Nelson is 0.14 percentage points. State law requires a machine recount in races where the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. Once completed, if the differences in any of the races are 0.25 percentage points or below, a hand recount will be ordered.

Scott's emergency complaint specifically accused Brenda Snipes, the Broward County supervisor of elections who has been the center of numerous accusations of incompetence and mishandling of ballots in the past several years, of being "unwilling to disclose records revealing how many electors voted, how many ballots have been canvassed, and how many ballots remain to be canvassed," and charges that the uncertainty "raises substantial concerns about the validity of the election process."

The litigation threw yet another wrench in an increasingly chaotic process reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election recount fiasco. In Broward County, the scheduled start of the recount was delayed Sunday because of a problem with one of the tabulation machines. The Republican Party accused Broward's supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, of continuing to compromise the process with "incompetence and gross mismanagement" following the delay, which was resolved within two hours.

Snipes, the Broward County election superviser who has held her office since 2003, is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year, Scott's administration said it was monitoring her office after a judge ruled in May the county broke federal law by destroying ballots in Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's 2016 Democratic primary race against Tim Canova, Politico reported.

Election workers place ballots into electronic counting machines, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, at the Broward Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla. The Florida recount began Sunday morning in Broward County. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

The error was made by a young employee of an outside company hired by the county to tally the election results and a lawsuit against Snipes' office over the incident was "unsuccessful," according to the Miami Herald. Snipes also won a lawsuit that same year after being challenged for leaving off an amendment regarding medical marijuana on some mail-in ballots.

Broward County election planning director Joe D'Alessandro told Fox News that machines in Broward are currently resorting some 3.5 million pages of ballots, and officials said that process could take more than 30 hours alone before any actual counting begins.

Broward is not the only county in Scott's legal crosshairs. In a parallel suit against Palm Beach County, Scott and the NRSC charge that the election supervisor there illegally used her own judgment to determine voter intent when reviewing damaged or incorrectly filled-out absentee ballots, while refusing to allow impartial witnesses to monitor the process.

Broward County, the state's second-most populous, is emerging as the epicenter of controversy in the recount. Broward officials said they mistakenly counted 22 absentee ballots that had been rejected, mostly because the signature on the return envelope did not match the one on file.

Brenda Snipes, Broward County supervisor of elections, speaks with officials before a canvassing board meeting Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Lauderhill, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

"I haven’t decided where I’m going to be this week," Scott said, when asked whether he would attend a planned GOP photo-op for incoming senators. "We are going to watch this machine recount process, so I figure that out in the next few days. I look forward to going to D.C. and being the Florida senator."

It is a problem that appears impossible to fix because the ballots were mixed in with 205 legal ballots. Snipes, who has long been accused of mismanaging county elections and has been sanctioned by a judge for destroying ballots in a 2016 congressional race, said it would be unfair to throw out all the ballots.

The incident occurred during a canvassing meeting in Palm Beach County, where provisional ballots were being examined. According to the draft transcript of the meeting, taken by a court reporter hired by the Florida Republican Party, a provisional ballot was ordered excluded from the count, as it came from a non-U.S. citizen.

"#BrowardElections office admits the vote count they submitted to state includes 22 illegal votes," Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio wrote on Twitter Sunday. "We know about these 22 because they got caught breaking law in reviewing 202 ballots. How can anyone trust more illegal votes aren’t in their final count?"

Broward County Probably Didnt Undercount the Florida Senate Race

Election workers place ballots into electronic counting machines, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, at the Broward Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla. The Florida recount began Sunday morning in Broward County. (Joe Cavaretta /South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

In the first complaint, the Scott campaign alleges Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes counted a certain number of ballots after the Saturday noon deadline. The campaign announced it is filing two other lawsuits against Snipes and Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Buchner, requesting voting tabulation equipment be impounded after the machine recount is completed. The lawsuits also request both supervisors be required to preserve all ballots and records connected with the 2018 election.

Undervoting — a phenomenon in which voters don't cast votes in all the races on the ballot — has become a prominent issue in the race. Rubio pointed out that Broward County is showing that approximately 25,000 fewer votes were cast in the Senate race than the gubernatorial contest — a significant undervote that could be explained by Snipes' ballot design, which placed the Senate contest directly below the ballot's instructions, out of line with other races.

Nelson's team filed a lawsuit on Friday against the Florida GOP secretary of state, and Scott announced a pair of lawsuits with the National Republican Senatorial Committee last Thursday against both Snipes and Bucher. On Friday, Scott and the NRSC won the suits, meaning election supervisors must comply with Scott's requests for certain vote-related information.

In 2006, the last time Nelson was on the ballot alongside a gubernatorial race, only 4,100 fewer people in Broward voted in the Senate race than in the election for governor. (However, at the statewide level this year, 34,051 fewer people voted in the Senate race than the gubernatorial race, a lower figure than the 35,736 undervote in 2006 — even though 3 million more votes were cast in 2018 compared to 2006.)

As the recount began, tensions across the state escalated, with candidates, activists and lawyers weighing in and taking issue with the process for the Senate, governor and state agriculture commissioner contests.

"How ironic would it be if those who are now bashing our criticism of Snipes in the end wind up arguing that a ballot design error made by her is the reason the Democrats lost?" Rubio said Sunday.

Other Republicans suggested that Democrats shouldn't get their hopes up as the recounts get underway.

A crowd protests outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Lauderhill, Fla. A possible recount looms in a tight Florida governor, Senate and agriculture commission race. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

"Scott trails DeSantis by 10,754 votes in Broward, and Nelson trails Gillum by 10,343," a Scott campaign source told Fox News. "The idea that the undervotes in Broward County is an opportunity for Nelson to significantly close the gap is not and has never been based on anything but fantasy."

Sunday's complaints from the Scott campaign add to the litigation piling up less than a week after Election Day as both sides battle it out for the Senate seat.

The recount in most other major population centers, including Miami-Dade and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in the Tampa Bay area, was ongoing without incident on Sunday. Smaller counties are expected to begin their reviews Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.

Republicans have repeatedly cried foul throughout the process, both in court and outside Florida election offices. On Saturday, GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz compared Broward County to a "banana republic" and posted video apparently showing him being denied access to election facilities on "safety" grounds.

Then there is this: On the Broward ballot, the Senate race is paired in that lower left column with one other contest, for the House. Broward contains parts of four congressional districts — all of them safely Democratic — so voters in different parts of the county had different House races on their ballots. But in one of those districts, Rep. Frederica Wilsons 24th Congressional District, there was apparently no House race listed at all. Thats because Wilson was running unopposed and Florida law mandates that the race simply not appear on the ballot in such a case, with the sole candidate simply being deemed the winner.

Protesters chanted, "Lock her up" outside the building earlier in the day, referring to Snipes.

Back in 2000, when George W. Bush claimed the presidency with an official victory margin of 537 votes in Florida, it was the ballot of another giant and heavily Democratic county that helped to doom Democrats. Then, the culprit was Palm Beach County and its infamous “butterfly ballot,” which produced widespread confusion and a fateful anomaly, with Pat Buchanan receiving nearly four times as many votes in Palm Beach than in any other Florida county. Even Buchanan would later say that he believed the bulk of those 3,411 votes were intended for Al Gore.

Floridas 2018 recount: Heres where we stand on Sunday

Rubio and other Florida officials have posted numerous videos and images on social media apparently showing boxes of ballots being left behind in public spaces or improperly loaded onto private trucks.

And, as political cartographer Matthew Isbell discovered, in the small portion of Broward County that is part of the 24th District, the number of ballots that contained no vote in the Senate race exploded. Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, also examined results from precincts around the county and found that the number of non-votes in the Senate race was significantly higher than the statewide average everywhere — and particularly in the 24th District.

At an emergency court hearing on Friday, state Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ruled there has “been a violation of the Florida Constitution,” as well as the state’s public records act, by Broward officials who had not turned over requested records about the number of votes to be counted. But, Gaetz said, Florida officials were still blocking Republicans from monitoring how they were handling boxes of ballots.

There were, of course, other factors at play in Florida in 2000. Democrats maintain that a recount under a certain set of conditions would have given the state to Al Gore, while Republicans insist that the TV networks early call of the state for Gore — when polls were still open in the strongly Republican Panhandle region — led dejected Bush voters to go home without casting ballots. Its impossible to pinpoint one factor that made all the difference.

"We have very specific laws in the state to try to prevent fraud," Scott, the incumbent Florida governor, told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace. "We had to go to court to force the supervisor of elections in Palm Beach County and Broward County to comply with the law, which is there to prevent fraud."

This means that on about 26,000 ballots, voters registered their choice in the governors race, which pitted Democrat Andrew Gillum against Republican Ron DeSantis, but not for Senate. That adds up to about 3.7 percent of all ballots cast in Broward. To put it mildly, that number is radically higher than anything found in any of Floridas 66 other counties, where votes cast in the Senate and gubernatorial races have tracked about evenly.

Scott added: "Sen. Nelson is clearly trying to commit fraud to win this election, that’s all this is." Asked to elaborate on his accusation, he replied, "Well, it's his team."

Broward County, just north of Miami, is home to nearly 2 million people, making it one of the largest counties in America. For Democrats, it is also a vote-producing behemoth, typically accounting for more than 10 percent of all of the votes they receive statewide. Not surprisingly, based on the ballots counted from Broward so far, Nelson is crushing his Republican opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, 69 percent to 31 percent.

"His lawyers said that a noncitizen should vote, that’s one," Scott continued. "Two, he’s gone to trial and said that fraudulent ballots should be counted, ballots have already been thrown out because they were not done properly. He said those should be counted."

There is some compelling evidence for this theory. A look at the Broward ballot shows that the Senate race occupies a lonely corner, buried in the left column under a lengthy set of instructions. The governors race, meanwhile, is perched prominently atop the middle column, with wide spacing between the names of all six candidates who qualified to run. Theres no question where the eye is more easily drawn.

Yes, Broward Countys recount is off to a rocky start

Lawyers for Nelson and Gillum on Friday had objected to the rejection of a provisional ballot cast by a noncitizen, according to a transcript obtained by Fox News.

If most of those 26,000 had voted in the Senate race, and if theyd done so at the 69 to 31 percent rate for Nelson seen countywide, Nelson would have earned a plurality of about 8,000 from them. Scott is leading by about 12,000 votes as of this writing, but if the final statewide margin is trimmed to less than 8,000 votes after the recount, the Broward ballot could have ended up being the difference.

The incident occurred during a canvassing meeting in Palm Beach County, where provisional ballots were being examined. According to the draft transcript of the meeting, taken by a court reporter hired by the Florida Republican Party, a provisional ballot was ordered excluded from the count, as it came from a non-U.S. citizen.

The recount reviews are an unprecedented step in Florida, a state that's notorious for election results decided by the thinnest of margins. State officials said they weren't aware of any other time either a race for governor or U.S. Senate in Florida required a recount, let alone both in the same election.

Yes, Broward Countys recount is off to a rough start

Broward County Supervisor of Elections Dr. Brenda Snipes, gives an update on the progress of ballots that are being counted from the midterm election Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

“No one should stand in the way of the people of our state exercising their right to vote and to have their voice heard,” he said. “Clearly, Rick Scott is trying to stop all the votes from being counted, and he’s impeding the democratic process.”

Snipes, the Broward County election supervisor who has held her office since 2003, is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year, Scott's administration said it was monitoring her office after a judge ruled in May the county broke federal law by destroying ballots in Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's 2016 Democratic primary race against Tim Canova, Politico reported.

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) – Hours after a statewide machine recount got underway to determine who Florida’s next governor and U.S. senator will be, all four candidates in contention are speaking out about the often acrimonious process.

Election workers in South Florida race to meet recount deadline

In August, a judge sided with the Florida GOP in its challenge of how the county handled absentee ballots. Republicans claimed Snipes' office was opening ballots in private, preventing people from challenging if they were properly cast, according to Politico.

On the U.S. Senate side, new developments took place on Sunday. The campaign for Florida Gov. Rick Scott filed emergency motions, requesting that extra security steps be taken in Broward and Palm Beach counties during the recount process.

And then in 2016, Broward County violated the law when it posted early voting results online before polls even closed, the Miami Herald reported.

Tight Florida Senate and governor races head to a recount

A crowd protests outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Lauderhill, Fla. Florida is once again at the center of election controversy, but this year there are no hanging chads or butterfly ballots like in 2000. And no angry mobs in suits, at least not yet. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

As the recount unfolded, Republicans urged their Democratic opponents to give up and allow the state to move on.

Both the state elections division, which Scott runs, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have said they have found no evidence of voter fraud. Gillum and Nelson have argued each vote should be counted and the process allowed to take its course.

Gillum addressed a large crowd at New Mount Olive Baptist Church to underscore what he says is the need for every vote to be counted.

Florida is also conducting a recount in a third statewide race. Democrat Nikki Fried had a 0.07 percentage point lead over Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell in the race for agriculture commissioner, one of Florida's three Cabinet seats.

From a distant glance, the recounts might dredge up memories of the 2000 presidential recount, when it took more than five weeks for Florida to declare George W. Bush the winner over Al Gore by 537 votes, thus giving Bush the presidency.

But much has changed since then. In 2000, each county had a separate voting system. Many used punch cards — voters poked out chads, leaving tiny holes in their ballots representing their candidates. Some voters, however, didn't fully punch out the presidential chad or gave it just a little push. Those hanging and dimpled chads had to be examined by the canvassing boards, a lengthy, tiresome and often subjective process that became fodder for late-night comedians.

Now the state requires that all Florida counties use ballots where voters use a pen to fill in a circle next to their candidate's name, much like a student does when taking a multiple-choice test. It also now clearly mandates how the recount will proceed.

Those ballots are now being run through scanning machines in each county for a second time under the watchful eye of representatives of both parties and the campaigns. Any ballot that cannot be read for any of the recounted races will be put aside.

If a race's statewide margin falls below 0.25 percentage points after the machine count, the state will order a manual recount in each county. At that point, only the rejected ballots for that race will be examined by counting teams to determine if the voters' intentions were obvious. For example, some voters circle the candidate's name instead of filling in the ballot correctly and some cross out their vote and then mark another candidate.

Florida Republican Scott asks that ballots be guarded in Senate race recount

If either side objects to a counting team's decision or the team can't make one, the ballot will be forwarded to the county's canvassing board, with the three members voting on the final decision. The members are usually the county supervisor of elections, a judge and the chair of the county commissioners.

Fox News' Peter Doocy, Ivonne Amor and Kathleen Reuschle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Posted in St. Petersburg